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Opinion: The changing American workweek

What is a “normal” workweek? Traditionally, at least since the mid-twentieth century, it’s been forty hours, generally between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. But obviously, there are a great many exceptions to this convention. First responders, like police and firefighters, have to be available 24/7. Many stores are open during evening hours when eight-to-fivers are free to shop. Hospitals must be staffed around the clock. Offices and buildings must be cleaned when they are not occupied. And so on.

Some professionals may set their own standards. For example, many lawyers count time in terms of billable hours. And those can greatly exceed the 40-hour standard, especially if an attorney has her or his sights set on the ladder that leads to an eventual partnership. 

Teachers may be on school grounds from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., but their duties include correcting homework and preparing lessons, work that can’t be done during teaching hours. And, of course, even among people in professional careers, there is wide range of dedication. During my 36 years of teaching college, I have known professors who did the bare minimum in order to maintain their tenure and others whose studies were their life-long passions and who, for all intents and purposes, seemed to work “all the time.”


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